2017-08-26 / Top News

Seven Decades Later, and Nowhere Else He’d Rather Be

A Contributor to Mackinac Island Community in Countless Ways, Armand ‘Smi’ Horn Honored by City
By Jacob A. Ball


Armand “Smi” Horn is pictured in a familiar spot — near a wagon filled with customers of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, where he has worked for 69 years. Many Islanders have received his recent move to St. Ignace for health reasons as a great loss for the Island. City Council passed a Resolution of Appreciation proclaiming that he will always be a valued and treasured member of the Mackinac Island community. Armand “Smi” Horn is pictured in a familiar spot — near a wagon filled with customers of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, where he has worked for 69 years. Many Islanders have received his recent move to St. Ignace for health reasons as a great loss for the Island. City Council passed a Resolution of Appreciation proclaiming that he will always be a valued and treasured member of the Mackinac Island community. Armand “Smi” Horn began work for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours as a teenager in 1948. For the next seven decades, he would not only work on the Island, but contribute to its small year-around and summertime community in countless ways.

From serving as fire chief and city councilman to his dedication to Mackinac Island’s cemeteries, Mr. Horn had an impact that can’t be overstated, according to his many friends and associates. Born and reared on Mackinac Island, he never thought he would live anywhere else, but recent health concerns have forced him to move across the water to St. Ignace.

The move forced Mr. Horn to resign from his latest roles as a member of the Mackinac Island Cemetery Board and Board of Public Works. And as he stepped down, the Mackinac Island City Council honored him with a Resolution of Appreciation in recognition of his contributions to the strength and vitality of the community.

Mr. Horn recently sat down with The Mackinac Island Town Crier to discuss what’s remarkable about Mackinac Island’s people, his involvement with the Mackinac Island Fire Department and cemeteries, his career with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, and his hopes for the future of the Island.

Mackinac Island’s strong sense of community is what has always drawn Mr. Horn back from any travels. Even now, while he’s living in St. Ignace, it’s certain that almost every day he will board the ferry and come to the Island first thing in the morning. It is the people who make the Island so special, he says, especially the friendship and love they share.

“If you’re going to live in a community, you have to be together, you have to help one another,” Mr. Horn said.

This is the way Mackinac Island was when he was growing up, and he is pleased that it remains the friendly open place he always called home. He took care to mention that the friendliness and welcoming nature of St. Ignace are special, as well, and that he has lots of friends over there.

The similarities between the two communities have a lot to do with their ties, economically and socially, he observed. His many Island friends, however, hope Mr. Horn will continue to arrive in the morning and remain as involved in Island doings as he wishes in retirement.

“I still want him to keep as active as he wants to, because we need his knowledge of all the different things on the Island. We need that,” Mayor Margaret Doud said.

Mr. Horn and the mayor have developed a close friendship over the years, nurtured by their deep commitment to the community. She said he has been a great citizen, has helped “all our people” in many ways, and he is always willing to lend a hand.

“I regard him as a very good friend,” she said, “and somebody I can pick up the phone and call and say, ‘Smi, I need something,’ and he’ll be there to help me.”

Mr. Horn’s public service began when he joined the Mackinac Island Fire Department in 1950. This was during a time when the technology and training enjoyed by modern firefighters wasn’t yet available. Horn family members all had served in the fire and police departments, which encouraged him to join at 18.

Characteristically, Mr. Horn says serving on the city fire department was one of the greatest honors of his life. He says the men with whom he worked were great role models and leaders. To him, the Fire Department is part of the backbone of the Island, along with the school and the churches.

Eventually, he would serve several years as fire chief. Managing fires decades ago was busier and more dangerous than today. There was a year, for example, in which he battled 11 fires in the woods of Mackinac Island State Park. The enhanced training available to today’s firefighters is clear every time there is an emergency on the Island, said Mr. Horn, who marvels at the techniques they now are taught.

So interested is he in those new strategies that he traveled to an Indianapolis training workshop where he watched Island resident Larry Rickley practicing the process used to open a roof during a house fire. Mr. Horn misses the action. He said he wishes he had been able to help firefighters quell a July 13 blaze that heavily damaged the interior of Lakewood Cottage.

“Of course,” Mayor Doud said, unsurprised, “he’s always been there to fight the fires.”

His longtime friend and colleague, Bill Chambers, said that back when Mr. Horn was working in the Carriage Tours shop, employees learned to take cover whenever the city’s fire alarm sounded.

“He was a passionate fireman. When the fire alarm sounded, you had to duck because, whatever Smi had in his hand, whether it was a wrench or a hammer, he threw it and ran out the door to go to the fire. So it was a ritual that, when the fire alarm went off, we ducked.”

Mr. Horn added that he’s impressed the department now has such effective equipment. A big part of the success and progress of the fire department is the result of great leadership it consistently has enjoyed, he said.

He also has been deeply involved in the preservation of Mackinac Island’s cemeteries. Mr. Chambers said Smi Horn, Robert Doud, Dale Gallagher, and Carl Couchois put the cemeteries back on the map. Mr. Horn, who retired this month, had been on the Mackinac Island Cemetery Board since around 1972. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Island’s cemeteries properly honor the residents’ ancestors, according to city council members.

Smi Horn “has played an important role as a member of the Mackinac Island Cemetery Board, where he has been a leading force, protecting and preserving the beauty of the Island’s cemeteries,” their resolution reads.

He was recruited by Mr. Couchois to help the undertaker with burials and upkeep at the Island cemetery. Mr. Couchois wanted to make sure someone would continue to care for the gravesites once he and Mr. Doud had gotten too old for the work. Little did Mr. Horn know that he would find himself committed to this work for decades to come. At the most recent cemetery board meeting, he still was an eager participant, raising several important issues even though he had resigned a week earlier.

While the work hasn’t been completed, Mr. Horn saw to it that many unmarked and misidentified graves were properly marked so that Mackinac Island cemeteries would be dignified resting places for Island residents’ forebears. He commended city foreman Sid De- Haan and assistant city foreman Mike Ruddle for continuing to repair damaged or messy gravesites.

Mr. Ruddle even is creating a new digital register of gravesites in both city-operated cemeteries to ensure that remains are respected and left undisturbed.

Mr. Horn’s role with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours has changed dramatically since he started work next to Bud Chambers at “the shop,” building and maintaining carriages 69 years ago. Growing up on the Island across the street from the Chambers’ home, he said, he was treated as a family member, whether that meant playing in their yard or eating cake in their kitchen.

His close connection to the Chambers family led to his starting job with the company just as Carriage Tours was getting off the ground. Mr. Chambers said many of the carriages still used today were built with Mr. Horn’s help decades ago. In fact, Mr. Chambers said, Smi Horn was instrumental in getting the company going.

Mr. Horn soon would leave the shop for Main Street, where he loaded sightseers on carriages before eventually taking over management of the tour group aspect of the business. Mr. Couchois, who was in charge of coordinating tour groups, recruited Mr. Horn to assist him as their popularity increased. Bus tours to Mackinac Island were growing during this period, encouraging Carriage Tours to invest in promoting the Island on a larger scale.

He would become the company representative for numerous tourism organizations, including Circle Michigan, which honored him with the Bill Shepler Volunteer of the Year Award in 2016. Mr. Horn credits Bill Shepler, the co-founder of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, with educating him regarding the tourism industry and providing service.

One example of that was a commitment to treating the students on school field trips with respect and kindness. He said he has always tried to treat the youngsters as the Island’s future customers, and to make sure that they have a fond memory.

Attention to details such as this made Mr. Horn and Carriage Tours essential to the success of the Island. He continued to manage the organization of tour groups for several decades. Dr. Chambers said Mr. Horn always has been there to help anyone and offer his unique opinions.

His opinions about the future of Mackinac Island are reflections of deep understanding and a considerate nature: he neither panics nor remains indifferent when the community must deal with an important issue. He said he’s concerned, at times, by the increased level of commercial development on Mackinac Island in his lifetime, but that, in many ways, it has been positive for the residents.

He never liked, however, the development along the downtown shoreline that has closed off much of what used to be open views of Lake Huron and Round Island. It also bothers him when Island families move away, but, in return, new ones arrive, he says philosophically.

Transportation will always be a challenge for his beloved Island, but in reality, he notes, there now are few days in the year when it is completely isolated from the mainland. He doesn’t see motorized vehicles as a threat, owing to the Island’s small size and resident commitment to equine culture. He added that, given his connection to Carriage Tours, he truly hopes he is right about this.

As long as there are people like Smi Horn, the future of Mackinac Island will never be in doubt. That’s as clear as the closing passage of the city council’s resolution:

“Therefore, be it resolved, Armand “Smi” Horn, has been, and always will be, a most valued and treasured member of the Mackinac Island community, and that the people of Mackinac Island will always cherish his vast knowledge and great kindness.”

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